I didn’t ring the bell as per the social media nonprofit, Breakthrough’s great new domestic violence campaign, Bell Bajao (Ring the Bell), a film series by Bauddhayan Mukherji inspired by true stories of men who let other men know that they knew what was going on in their homes. But last night, I had to pick up the phone.
I was waiting for a bus, when across the street, only a few doors down from my home, I saw a young woman hysterically crying. She was perhaps of Guatemalan or Peruvian descent as was the man, also young, trying to calm her down. I’ve seen this before but now it appeared he was not walking away though she kept pushing him away. He kept trying to soothe her until soothing and unwanted kisses became pressing her face.
A bus going the other way stopped and passengers got out and walked by. No one stopped. I was reminded of Professor Dalton’s “39th Witness” story he told in his poli-sci class in college. In 1964, a woman, Kitty Genovese, was stabbed to death in a Queens apartment building. Later police reports stated that 38 people watched but felt someone else was doing something. Prof. Dalton turned to all 250 spell-bound students and asked, would we be the 39th witness?
I knew I would never be; I hadn’t been before and in that class I resolved never to be. I may get in trouble for speaking up when nothing is wrong — which is how I prefer it rather than the alternative. But in that situation, last night, I didn’t know what to do: the guy was bigger than me, obviously aggressive, and the couple were speaking in Spanish, which I don’t know.
I was about to call the police, but when a man got of his car near me, I ran over to him and asked if he spoke Spanish, pointing to the couple. I didn’t want them to walk away and wanted intervention asap. Instead, the man recommended that I call “911.”
I called and luckily there was a police car being dispatched. Someone else had called, and my hope in humanity was raised a small notch. In case the couple walked away, I was asked for a full description of the couple. I really wished I had a better phone camera rather than my old Blackberry one just then. As it turned out, they did walk away, across the street towards me and up the hill. I let my 911 operator know that and told her which direction.
My bus came and we hung up, but I was uneasy whether or not police were indeed coming so I called again and confirmed they were on their way. The rest of my bus trip was spent praying for that woman, and praying there was no violence in that relationship, that perhaps it was just a volatile couple’s fight, praying that if there was anything the police would be there in time to prevent anything horrific, and if it were a violent relationship, this woman would and could get away from such a partner.
I really wished I could’ve spoken to the police and made sure they mentioned La Casa de las Madres to that woman, a dv org that offers shelter, advocacy and support to women and caters more to the Hispanic communities. They also have a Domestic Violence Response team that works with SFPD — but figured 911 probably knows that given the police car insignia. You can rest assured I’m going to doublecheck that today.
As I watched the Bell Bajao series (where you can upload your own video and features videos and also post blogs), it occurred to me that all acts of gender violence — the most violent acts in the world — is from a sense of entitlement and/or deep insecurity. It can be a man or woman who are doing the abusing, but simply on a statistical level, it is overwhelming men who are the abusers. Men who need their home to be cleaned, dishes to be washed, meals to be ready and in just the way they want it. Men who may be too drunk to earn but resent their wives for not only earning but keeping a home. How can we stop this?
On a longer term, it will mothers take raising rather than worshipping boys who can prepare their meals and clean their homes and wash their clothes their own damn selves. Who do not view it as their right to have a wife or partner who is there to serve his needs. Who respect women — drunk, slutty, virginal, or otherwise. Who realizes from his own mother that to raise children is full-time work, that women also leave the home to work now, and each of them in a relationship must be there for each other.
It will take raising girls who become women who will not tolerate violence; who value themselves so that they will walk away from men who disrespect them; who help and not judge other women in bad situations.
It will take couples who work at effectively communicating despite hectic schedules and don’t resort to lashing out or abusing each other verbally or physically.
It will take campaigns like this, so men and women know they don’t have to suffer in silence. It takes ringing the bell and not being a 39th Witness.